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The search engine (SE) has become a vital part of information sharing & commerce on the web, and today, SE advertising has become a very big business. Just as SEs become more sophisticated in their relevance to search queries, so too are web surfers becoming more savvy in using them as tools on the web.
In a nutshell, a search engine is a network of thousands of computers that searches and indexes the entire internet. Users input a keyword or phrase into a field on the SE’s site to locate relevant websites. The biggest SE is:

Just as every day it becomes more important for firms to have their sites properly indexed for SEs, also every day it becomes more competitive. More than three billion pages are now indexed.

Some interesting stats from (late 2003). These figures will change quickly. Microsoft has announced a new SE to come online maybe in 2005. It will be a powerful one. The 7 largest search engines on the web are (or were):

1. Google   56.1%  
2. Yahoo   21.5%
3. MSN Search   9.4%  
4. AOL Search   3.7%  
5. Terra Lycos   2.3%  
6. Altavista   1.9%  
7. Ask Jeeves   1.6%

Given that Yahoo is powered by google, clearly you have to be in google to be a player in the game. If you’re in google, you’re covered for 75% of SE searches worldwide. This article is just an introduction. It may sound funny, but you can search for search engines in search engines! Lots of info out there. SE sites also contain excellent and wide ranging information.

Just launched a new site?

Don't worry if your brand new site doesn't appear in search engines after launch. Eventually it will, SEs trawl the net periodically, typically about once a month. That's why there are paid services to express submit your site to search engine indexes. (It’s even possible that some might delay listing new sites to increase sales of this service!)

So your site should be indexed eventually. Especially if linked to by an indexed site. Click as a Flash submits client sites to Google. You can visit other SEs and find a link to submit your site. Some are free, some require a fee. Free listing can be very slow, paid listing is very fast.

A special note: we’ll use our example site Ray’s Roof Repairs as the model for this article.

Two important steps

There are two steps involved in listing your site to improve your ranking chances.

1. Identify what keywords and phrases potential clients will use to look for you.
2. Optimize your site and make it relevant based on those keywords and phrases.

1. Identify what keywords and phrases are relevant

The key thing about search engines is you have to figure out what clients search for. Not what you’d like them to search for, but what they actually do search for!
Imagine you are a customer looking for your own site. Ask friends or colleagues what they would throw into a search engine to locate a firm selling products or services like yours.

Another critical reason to know what your prime search query word(s) are is that you can only hope to "own" one phrase, not many. So your aim is to try to “own” your best single phrase. You might succeed in being in the top 10 of people who like a phrase like "Los Angeles roof repairs" by emphasizing that phrase on your site, but you have to let go of your third, fourth, fifth and so on choices. (You can only have one heading on a page etc, which constrains your optimizing efforts.) So if someone inputs “Fix roof in LA” you might miss out on some business. But that doesn’t matter if more people input “LA roof repairs.”

Finding out your best keywords is vital as you might score well with a phrase like "Los Angeles roof repairs" and optimize your site for that phrase, but that's not valuable if even more customers are searching for "Fix roof in LA". Meet your market.

One method of determining your best key phrases is to run a paid ad campaign with google - this costs money but the data received (on how many clicks each phrase you submit receives) is very, very useful.
Info on how we can run a google advertising campaign for you follows.

2. Optimizing your site for SEs

The second step is to optimize your site for search engines to maximize your ranking and click-thru success.

There are companies on the web which offer this as a paid service. Be wary of their claims. They can honestly claim to be able to get a name like “Ray’s Roof Repairs” to a google top ten result. And so they can (it’s not difficult) as that’s a unique phrase, unlike “professional roof repairs”. “Click as a Flash” is number two in google, but that doesn’t help our business, as no-one searches for the firm by name! It is of limited use in a business sense because people are looking for a roofing site (not a firm which they haven’t yet heard of) so they aren’t going to input your name. Rather, they will throw keywords and key phrases into the SE.

The real challenge is to figure out what keywords and phrases your potential clients will use to look for you. So if you can identify phrases your potential customer will most likely use (like "Los Angeles roof repairs") it is possible to adjust your site (sometimes called optimizing for search engines) so that your ranking on searches improves. In summary, you use various strategies like repeating that phrase on several pages etc.

So to "own" a phrase like "Los Angeles roof repairs" you need to use that phrase throughout your site, in your headings, your text, even hidden picture labels etc. That helps you to rank above your competitors, even if it upsets the literary quality of your text a little. For good English you vary word use. For SEs, you repeat words.
So the text of Ray’s Roof Repairs should have a number of sentences like:
“The number one firm for Los Angeles roof repairs.” or, “Call 1234 5678 for the best roof repairs in Los Angeles.” Note these two uses of the four words “Los”, “Angeles”, “roof” and “repairs”.

A special note: Page headings are important. So for their Contact page, Ray’s Roof Repairs should call that page “Contact for Roof Repairs in Los Angeles” rather than just “Contact”.

So to summarize, by repeating your preferred phrase, you can rank more highly, but lose a little literary style.

The hidden keyword and description “META” tags are a part of the optimization process, but carry little "weight" with search engines these days because so many people know how to stack them. Click as a Flash incorporates META tags for all our clients.

Links are very, very important for ranking. So if Rays belonged to some LA Roofing Association or whatever and they linked to their site, their ranking score rises. Your links are even searched and assessed for their relevancy, so if your friend Joe from Joe's links to your site, that's not too helpful. Google regards a link to your site as a kind of relevant “vote” for your site, and rewards you for it.

Link exchanges aren’t valuable — if a site has 1,000 links and one of them is to you, google isn’t impressed. But if the site only has 10 links and one is to you, then google is impressed. Google assumes your site is important if another site grants you one of it’s only 10 links.

Search engines are now very clever. They now look at all your text and even your domain name as they try to rank sites for their results lists. So if you want to "own" a keyword like "Los Angeles Roof Repairs" you have it in your headlines, frequently in your text, maybe even make your domain name!

A very special note: It’s possible that you can lose ranking points for doing “bad” things, such as trying to trick the search engines by repeating your keywords hundreds of times and so on. So don’t overdo it!

Given that SEs may only crawl the net once a month or so, improving ranking in search engines is a slow process but obviously important in the long term.

What are your clients looking for?

Following are listed our example site’s keywords and description tags which partially help search engines determine Ray's relevance to a search query. (Remember there are many other factors SEs use to assess relevancy.)
(A special note: “Meta” tags are hidden tags inserted into website code partly for visitor’s browsers to be able to interpret the site, and partly to give info to search engines.)

META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="roof, repairs, roofing, storm, emergency, damage, tiles, corrugated iron, Los Angeles, LA, California"
META NAME="description" CONTENT="Ray’s Roof Repairs, professional Los Angeles roof repairs"

So theoretically, if someone threw "Los Angeles roof repairs" into a search engine, the site has a chance of a decent ranking, as the phrase occurs in the hidden META tag and also in the text. However, META tags don’t carry much weight with SEs these days.

The top secret google algorithm

The interesting part.

No-one outside google knows the formula of their algorithm by which they weigh relevance of the data within websites. It's much more than just the description words that are hidden in a site's hidden “meta” tags. Google gives weight to many things, such as the number of times the word is repeated on your site, extra weight if it is in headings — even if your keywords appear in your domain name. Weight is even given to the number of links to your site, and even to the relevance and quality of those links! In other words, google goes to great lengths to weigh the relevance of your site to the input keywords in what must be a very complex formula.

Click as a Flash’s theoretical guess at the google algorithm — theoretical point scale

Domain name: 10
( would edge ahead of in a search for the keywords “los angeles roof repairs”)
Description and Meta Tags: 10
(some or all key words should be in your company description to score on those words.)
Keyword usage and repetition in text: 40
(how many times is “Los Angeles” or "roof repairs" repeated to score well?)
Usage in paragraph headings: 10
Usage in bold text: 5
Usage in page headings: 15
Usage in picture captions: 5
Links from other sites (PageRank): 40
(if other roof related organizations link to your site, Google thinks you are more important.)
Google calls this "PageRank™". Here's what google says on its website:
"Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote."
Number of pages: 5
(a 20 page relevant site trumps a 5 page site)
Dynamics, like frequency of info updates: 5
(Google might give higher marks if your site updates frequently, not sit there with "updated July 4, 1999")
Site listing on 15
(a human assessed database of sites, you can subit your site to dmoz.)
Unknown factor 1: 10
(the google algorithm is a closely guarded secret like the Coca Cola formula!)
Unknown factor 2: 10
Unknown factor 3: 10
(There must be other factors we haven’t yet discovered!)
Attempting to trick search engines: -40
(There are various tricks that have been used to trick SEs, such as using invisible text - white text on a white background. SEs can identify these tricks. Likewise, they can determine if you repeat your keywords 10 times in a row.)
You have a cousin who is a google engineer: 10
(just kidding!)


There it is, this could be the google algorithm, worth million$.

Submitting your site to search engines

Because the web has over 3 billion pages, it can take months for SEs to find your site via trawling on the web. So for some site owners it makes sense to pay for priority inclusion into the big search engines.

It should be emphasized that many SEs allow you to submit sites for inclusion for free - you can often find a link on their sites. We can do an express inclusion for clients for a small fee, or you might like to try it yourself via:

which is the submission company we have used for Click as a Flash.

The fees for inclusion into Inktomi (which feeds MSN and Hotbot) start at $25, Ask Jeeves and Teoma $18, Altavista $19, What u Seek $19. These fees are for 6 months or a year, but it’s not clear as to why you would need to renew, because the search engines aren't likely to delete your listing!

Click as a Flash was express submitted via to "Ask Jeeves" and it appeared in about four days or so. Be wary of assurances by paid submission companies that they can get some unusual name to the top of a listing - that is easy. It’s easy to optimize a site so that a search for “Rays Roof Repairs” brings up the Ray’s Roof Repairs site. The difficult thing is to get a general phrase like "roof repairs" to bring up your site.

"Click as a Flash" comes up as around number two in a google search, but is of little use as that's not what new clients search for!

Research keywords by advertising on google

There is a way of using google advertising to research your keywords. Google advertising is effective because you only pay for CLICK-THRUS, not for VIEWS ONLY! Click as a Flash offers this service for $200. A $100 fee for us, and $100 goes to google for the actual campaign. What you do is use say twenty phrases for a period of time. Then, after say a month, the data from this advertising reveals how many people clicked on which keywords, and even how many clicked through on those keywords. This truly helps identify what keywords your customers are using.

So you might discover that 56 people searched for "LA emergency roof repairs" for that month, and 4 clicked through to Ray’s (because your paid ad appeared 56 times). So even if your ad spend doesn't bring in business, you get valuable info. But then you have to figure out if your targetted high up excutive with a budget clicked thru to your site, or just some curious passer by!

You get very valuable strategic information from this exercise. What’s the use of optimizing your site for “L A roofing repairs” if your clients are looking for “LA roof repairs”?

You can try 20 or more words or phrases. You set a daily budget eg $10 a day, and a price per click thru on your ad, eg 50 cents. (In that case, if 20 people click thru to Ray’s, you pay $10 for that day. Then, your ads stop until tomorrow. Very clever, very interesting business.) A time and money limit is set, eg $10 per day ad spend for 10 days. If your click-thru fee is 50 cents, you will have 200 click-thrus to analyse prior to your next campaign.

So you write a couple of short ads which only appear if someone inputs your relevant phrases. An example of a google ad is:
Ray’s Roof Repairs, the best roof repairs company in Los Angeles.
If you registered the phrase "Los Angeles roof repairs" and 50 people input that query one day, and 10 of those people clicked on the Ray’s ad, then it would cost $5.

The value of this is you can register unusual phrases and find out what people are inputting! Just repeating, it’s vitally important to find out what your customers want!

You can register particular keywords which, if they appear in any combination in a search engine query, cause one of your ads to appear. So you can register a series of keyword groups like: "roof, emergency, repairs" and specify that all three must appear in the search string.

You get immediate data from Google eg: 42 people searched for "Los Angeles roof repairs" and 7 clicked on the Ray’s ad on November 12. You get full details on how many people searched for which query. So you gradually can figure out your most precious phrases or keywords provided you try every possible word you can think of in the first place.

What’s likely is you will be surprised at what people use in search engines to find a firm like yours - well that’s what happened to Click as a Flash!

Reverse engineering

Finally, you can learn a lot by looking at the source code of other websites.
The procedure is to throw your preferred keywords into a search engine, then visit the top sites that appeal. Look at their source code, then all their pages. To examine the source code of a site from the browser, you click on the “View” button at the top, then “Source”. Then, you can usually see that site's meta tags and other information.Watch out for instances of the keywords in the text and headlines. You start to theorize about why the site ranked so highly. (And half the time you can't figure it, some irrelevant site ranks above yours!)

Some people have made it their hobby, their life’s work, to fine tune their sites to improve their SE ranking. They wait patiently for google to re-index their site, then check that their rank has gone up! Your ranking often fluctuates from month to month, a phenomenon that’s been called the “Florida Dance.”

Google PageRank algorithm

Click this link to read an in-depth article about the Google PageRank™ system by David Callan.

Article © Click as a Flash 2004-12 (no part may be reproduced without written permission)



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